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Inflatable structures for space applications
Current activities involving Inflatable Structures at ESA include:
  • Applications, as balloons, atmospheric entry, landing, deployment and support structures, habitats
  • Materials and processes developments, characterizing new flexible materials, developing new rigidization concepts and folding techniques, investigation new manufacturing processes.
  • Development and validations of analysis tools and methods
  • On-ground testing, qualification methodologies, in-flight testing
Example of recent or running developments are shown:
Airbag Systems for Small Landers
Non-vented Airbag systems are under development to deliver small landers (130 to 170 Kg EDLS mass) to the surface of Mars. The design has been assessed according to the MREP requirements. The manufacturing and testing of the breadboards will follow.  
Non-vented Airbag systems
Non-vented Airbag systems
Large size inflatable booms
Large size inflatable booms
Design, Verification and Manufacturing Aspects Relevant for Inflatable Modules have been assessed in a TRP study. A breadboard of 3.3m diameter and 2m height has been successfully manufactured. SW simulation aspects have been assessed and a strong attention has been put on the integration, manufacturing and on the entire verification campaign. The project has also given the chance for an accurate investigation of possible stress and deformation measurement techniques applicable to inflatable structures and for the efficient packaging of the inflatable shell through dedicated tooling. Possible applications are Human habitat for the ISS or Green houses for the Moon, whose development ahs recently started within the MELISSA project.

New investigation on different bladder bonding techniques will now start via a new TRP study.
Inflatable Modules
Inflatable Structures
All spacecraft for manned space flight have contained windows, extremely useful in conducting photographic-type experiments and providing the capability for visual horizon and relative spacecraft referencing. Advanced applications of expandable structures find it desirable to provide windows for visual observations.

Flexible transparent polymers are under investigation in order to evaluate their optical and mechanical properties for the realisation of a flexible window for inflatable or expandable habitat modules.
ESA is currently developing a fluid-structure interaction tool that will allow for the analysis of the decelerator system in the supersonic regime, and will be able to interface with a range of flow and structural solvers.
Last update: 4 January 2013


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